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Duluth again delays plastic bag fee

Councilors were divided on whether a nickel-per-bag charge should be postponed in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Plastic and paper bags sit ready for use at checkout at Mount Royal Market in Duluth. (File / News Tribune)

The Duluth City Council voted 7-2 Monday night to push back a fee on plastic bags that was scheduled to take effect at the start of next year. Monday night's vote actually marked the third delay of the proposed nickel-per-bag charge that originally was to have gone into place in April, then that date was moved to July before being postponed until January. On previous occasions, the council cited concerns about bringing forward a new requirement in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Council President Gary Anderson said people, including front-line workers, are simply under too much stress to be saddled with a new mandate at this time. His ordinance would delay the fee from going into effect until 90 days after the city and state emergency declarations expire.

"I am absolutely in support of this fee. We are in a climate emergency. Our earth is crying out. Our people are crying out," he said.

Yet Anderson said the amendment he offered "will bring some relief to many members of our community, especially those who are under intense emotional distress at this time."

At large Councilor Derek Medved, who operates a chain of convenience stores, said many consumers already are wound tight by mask requirements and have demonstrated short tempers. He expressed concern that launching bag fees in January would only exacerbate a difficult situation at a time when many are already misdirecting their frustration at service people trying to comply with what has been asked of them.

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But 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress said he sees no reason for further delay.

"We are killing our planet with plastic, and we're killing our lake with plastic," he said.

Likewise, 3rd District Councilor Roz Randorf questioned the need for further delay, pointing out that retailers have had plenty of time to prepare for the fee and have done so. "The hard work has been done, and we are up to the challenge," she said.

But while residents are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, at large Councilor Arik Forsman said postponing the fee was "the practical and reasonable thing to do."

At large Councilor Terese Tomanek said while she fully supports the idea of a plastic bag fee that could encourage people to opt for reusable bags, she said that adding the requirement now could create added complications and delay at a time when people are simply trying to get in and out of stores as quickly as possible and with minimum risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Voting for the ordinance were councilors Anderson, Forsman, Zack Filipovich, Tomanek, Medved, Janet Kennedy and Renee Van Nett. Voting against it were councilors Sipress and Randorf.

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